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Filipino gunmen's leader 'still in Sabah'
Publication Date : 14-03-2013
The Malaysian authorities believe that Philippine militant leader Agbimuddin Kiram is alive and still in Sabah, even as he and his gunmen continue to elude them.
"As a leader, he will not run and leave his people by themselves here," Sabah police chief Hamza Taib said yesterday. "He must lead them."
The status of commander Agbimuddin has been closely watched since Malaysian troops launched a military offensive against the intruders nine days ago. But security forces have not found Agbimuddin in their sweeps of villages in east Sabah so far.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Agbimuddin was in Sabah and, in a brief phone interview, had said he and his men were "safe and not under fire". Ignoring Malaysia's calls to lay down their arms and turn themselves in, he had insisted that they would not surrender.
"We have many sympathisers," he was reported as saying, adding that the group was getting fresh supplies.
Agbimuddin would not reveal, however, whether he was receiving reinforcement fighters from the southern Philippines.
About 60 of his men have already died in clashes with Malaysian forces. On the Malaysian side, eight policemen and two soldiers have been killed in the siege, which is now into its fifth week.
Agbimuddin, the younger brother of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, led more than 150 men in boats in an incursion into Sabah to stake an ancestral claim last month.
On March 5, the Malaysian military unleashed air strikes and artillery on the gunmen's camp in Tanduo village on the east coast of Sabah, but in the ensuing operation have not been able to capture many of them.
Media reports yesterday quoted the Philippine Navy as saying it had detained 35 suspected Filipino militants on two boats as they sought to sail home from the Sabah military offensive.
Both boats carried guns and one man was injured, possibly from the clashes in Sabah.
The Sabah incursion, which has threatened to strain bilateral ties between Malaysia and the Philippines, has been a "wake-up call" for Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on a TV programme on Tuesday night.
"Where there are gaps in terms of our capabilities, we hope that we'll be able to close the gap," he said, adding that securing Sabah's long coastline border was a "huge challenge". He said that the government would not compromise Malaysia's security and sovereignty.
"We must do whatever we can to ensure that Malaysians anywhere, in any part of Malaysia, feel secure, safe and their future safeguarded by the government."
Malaysian armed forces chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zain yesterday said security forces were expected to "clean up" Kampung Tanduo, Sungai Nyamuk and Tanjung Batu - areas in east Sabah where skirmishes with the militants had taken place - by today.
He said the authorities will make sure that the gunmen are "unable to enter these areas again".
Separately, deputy police chief Khalid Abu Bhakar announced that the authorities will be establishing five new police stations in east Sabah, near areas with large immigrant populations.